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Lizzy Masotta
Senior Product Lead, Shopify | Formerly Salesforce, Google, Nest, Cisco SystemsJuly 27

Interview Red Flags

  1. During a Product Case Interview – If your interviewer is having to guide you through each section or prompt you with several follow up questions, that’s not a good thing.
  2. If a candidate clearly has never used the product (hint: always sign up for the product, do the free trial, or watch YouTube videos / demos).
  3. If one of the candidates questions at the end is something along the lines of “how do promotions work here?”
  4. If a candidate is unable to draw connections between their past experiences and the current role / company

More specifically, in a Product Case Interview:

  1. Forgetting about Product Discovery If you are given a prompt like “design a product that does X” you must always question if X is worthwhile. Many candidates will just immediately dive in without doing the Product Discovery to find out - is there a problem here? Is this worth building? What are the pain points today? Why build this?

    A more tangible example: “Design a personal shopping assistant.” You must first ask: What do people use today for shopping? What do we currently offer? Is it frustrating? Would people use this? What problems would it solve? Would this help our business?
  2. Lacking Opinions Continuing with the case example above (“Design a personal shopping assistant”), candidates need to assert their assumptions and hypotheses throughout the case. For example, “Launching a personal shopping assistant will increase sales” → this is a hypothesis - state it aloud. “The personal shopping assistant must be digital, not a physical human being” → this is an assumption - state it aloud.
  3. Random Ideation When you get to the part of the case where you're coming up with product solutions (ie: roadmap) it’s important to flex your creativity but also your strategic thinking. Your ideas should always be rooted in solving the problem you identified from the beginning of the case. They should be focused on the things that are most painful for customers today.
  4. Forgets about metrics Your metrics should always be tied to the question “why should we build this?” In other words, what metric will tell you that this was a worthwhile investment? I like to call this ‘the north star metric’. There are also ‘counter metrics’ or 'trip wire metrics', which are the metrics that indicate this is going in the wrong direction or not worth building. And then there are ‘leading indicator metrics’ like adoption or usage that tell you if it’s headed in the right direction or not.
  5. Asks cookie cutter questions When an interviewer asks “do you have any questions” it’s an opportunity to showcase your strategic thinking (by asking questions that show you understand the product / company / business model) but it’s also an opportunity for you to gauge if you want to work for this company. If you were about to make a billion dollar investment in this company and you were given 1 question to ask, would you ask, “what’s your favorite part about working here?” No. You’d ask something like “why can’t x, y or z competitors replicate what you have?”
Brandon Green
Director of Product, Fulfillment, ezCater | Formerly Wayfair, Abstract, CustomMade, SonicbidsNovember 9

I've sort of answered this in other questions asked, but to restate: Red Flags usually manifest in candidates who are

  • Unable to speak to specific impact they (as opposed to their team/org) have had on the business, or point to any specific metric they impacted, and why that metric was important
  • Unable to speak to experiences of learning/growth in the face of failure, or blaming others on said failures
  • Unable to speak to a basic understanding of how the business they're interviewing for works, how it makes money, how their particular role may add value to the organization